France and the genocide issue

The French parliament is about to vote on a bill that would criminalize speech that »»

The French parliament is about to vote on a bill that would criminalize speech that denies the killings of Armenians in 1915 was genocide. This is one of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s political maneuvers ahead of the 2012 presidential elections. He is not only seeking the support of the strong Armenian community in France, but also trying to revive the anti-Turkish feelings in his country’s public opinion.

Awakening Turkish public consciousness about the 1915 events is imperative because it has the potential to become one of the essential tools for political restructuring in Turkey and it is also an existential problem for the Turkish-Armenian community. The “genocide” debate is of crucial importance as it encourages us to face our own history, to expose the anti-democratic practices this country’s citizens had to suffer until now and it is also a way to discuss how to establish equality for all citizens of different ethnic and religious backgrounds. This issue is also critical for relations between Turks and Armenians and between Turkey and Armenia.

Adopting a law that makes the denial of the Armenian “genocide” punishable in French courts, however, will only make it harder to discuss this matter in Turkey on social and political levels. The pertinence of such a law in the context of freedom of thought and speech should also be discussed.

Pursuing the debate on the Armenian issue in Turkey is necessary because it opens the way for people to ask for a more just and transparent state. It also makes people notice how senseless it is to keep the Turkish-Armenian border closed and persist on an antagonistic policy toward a nation with which Turkey has lived together for centuries. However, foreign political interference, like France’s legislative initiative, do not encourage Turks at all to discuss this matter with a cool head. On the contrary, this law will only exacerbate ultranationalist rhetoric in Turkey by angering public opinion and by stimulating enmity towards both the French and the Armenians. In other words, the French law will not help Turks face their history and it will not fix Turkish-Armenian relations. Not only will the Turks become more nationalistic because of this debate’s electric atmosphere, the Armenians will, too. In brief, a law adopted in one country is not an effective way to normalize relations between two other countries or their peoples.

Those who prepared this bill are certainly aware of its devastating consequences. The “genocide” issue is of course just a cloak for them. France is simply trying to make Turkey toughen its stance and to provoke harsh reactions in order to show once again that Turkey does not belong in Europe. It’s true that an intransigent and bellicose image is not helpful for Turkey’s EU bid. This law is supplementary proof that the “genocide” issue and relations between Turkey and Armenia are simply diplomatic tools used for divergent purposes.

This new crisis between France and Turkey will seemingly cause extensive damage to bilateral relations. It’s odd that despite this sour ambiance France still attempts to win Turkish military procurement bids and to enter into the Turkish energy market. French businessmen are trying hard to win Turkey back, and their efforts are completely sabotaged by such initiatives. It is time to ask ourselves who is going to benefit from bad relations between France and Turkey. It is also legitimate to ask why some people in France are trying so enthusiastically to lose Turkey for good.

Is there anyone in France who believes that this law will make Turkey adopt a more humanistic or just stance regarding the Armenian issue or that it will in any way contribute to resolving any major diplomatic issue?